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Here’s How To Watch the ‘Alien’ Movies in Chronological Order

C'mon, let's run from the xenomorphs!

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in 'Alien'

Space is a tremendously scary place, you know? There’s still so much people don’t know, and that’s why sci-fi horror is particularly frightening for many viewers. Of course I’m doubtful that xenomorphs and robots that are so technologically advanced you can’t even tell they’re robots exist in the world. I sort of hope not (keyword: sort of), but in the Alien franchise both of those do exist. And almost nobody has a good time during the Alien films.

If you’re new to the franchise or just looking for a refresher on the chronology, I’m here to assist with your space adventures. Think of me as your Ripley, and don’t be scared as we venture through this very large spaceship together. Keep reading for a guide to watching the Alien films in order.

Prometheus (2012)

Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus
(20th Century Studios)

Plot: “Following clues to the origin of mankind, a team finds a structure on a distant moon, but they soon realize they are not alone.”

Creating prequel films can sometimes be a solution to the problem of continuing a horrible plotline. The crossover AVP (Alien vs Predator) series was giving fans something else to chew on, but Prometheus (2012) introduced a new feeling to the franchise with a story set in 2093, four years after archaeologists discover a mysterious star map they believe will lead them to the creators of life on Earth. The film is long as hell, has a dark atmosphere, and there’s a lot of fresh mythology introduced. It’s a gorgeous film and the negatives mainly come from the writing. But otherwise it’s enjoyable, not to mention the cast is relatively stacked (you can never go wrong with Idris Elba and Charlize Theron!).

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Protomorph in Alien: Covenant
(20th Century Studios)

Plot: “The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination, and must attempt a harrowing escape.”

Despite the obvious flaws (i.e., some wonky CGI), Alien: Covenant isn’t a horrible entry in what is an inconsistent franchise. I personally love it because it’s really dark and the creatures actually scare the hell out of me. Set 11 years after the events of Prometheus, Covenant has some issues with its characters and how most of them are throwaways, but the performances from the leads make it easier to ignore the problems. There’s also a fair amount to unpack in the themes of this sequel to Prometheus.

Alien (1979)

Ripley looking exhausted in Alien
(20th Century Studios)

Plot: “The crew of a commercial spacecraft encounter a deadly lifeform after investigating an unknown transmission.”

Alien is absolutely a horror classic and any sci-fi horror lover needs to watch it at least once. The first film is set in the year 2122 and follows the crew of the Nostromo. The effects are splendid across the board, the xenomorph is fucking scary, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is a badass, and it’s an all-around gem. Don’t skip this entry if you’re getting into the franchise for the first time. It may not be dripping with action like the sequel, but it’s perfect. In addition, Ripley is one of the most resourceful final girls in horror history. Plus, who doesn’t love it when cats survive a horror movie?

Aliens (1986)

The Alien Queen in Aliens
(20th Century Studios)

Plot: “Fifty-seven years after surviving an apocalyptic attack aboard her space vessel by merciless space creatures, Officer Ripley awakens from hyper-sleep and tries to warn anyone who will listen about the predators.”

People sometimes favor Aliens over the original and that’s totally fine. But it’s certainly more action/sci-fi than it is horror, which isn’t at all like the first film. There’s a lot of action sequences that reflect the time in which this sequel came out. James Cameron did write and direct it, after all! Ripley gains new allies after 57 years of being in stasis (a self-induced coma is the best way to describe it), and a lot of big names pop up in this entry. It’s a relatively fun time if you’re not too turned off by the action.

Alien 3 (1992)

Ripley and a snarling xenomorph in 'Alien 3'
(20th Century Studios)

Plot: “After her last encounter, Ellen Ripley crash-lands on Fiorina 161, a maximum security prison. When a series of strange and deadly events occur shortly after her arrival, Ripley realizes that she has brought along an unwelcome visitor.”

Set almost immediately following Aliens, Alien 3 suffered behind the scenes and is the weakest compared to the previous films. I’m not joking when I say you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who loves Alien 3. Of course, if nothing else, Ripley and the scares are what save this film from falling completely apart. Otherwise? It’s a film that’s not remotely cohesive and is forgettable in the grand scheme of things. I unfortunately can’t recommend you skip it if you’re binging the franchise for the first time because you may as well complete the original trilogy.

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Annalee and Ripley in Alien: Resurrection
(20th Century Studios)

Plot: “200 years after her death, Ellen Ripley is revived as a powerful human/alien hybrid clone. Along with a crew of space pirates, she must again battle the deadly aliens and stop them from reaching Earth.”

Almost every horror franchise has at least one hated entry and for the Alien franchise, it’s Alien: Resurrection. I’m going to be honest, though, and admit I have never gotten around to finishing this film. I can’t speak on the quality of it personally, but it seems not even Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, and Brad Dourif could save this film.

(featured image: 20th Century Studios)

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Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a blerd writer and visual artist who loves horror, anime and all things strange. Her writing has appeared in Pink Advocate, Dread Central and more. For more, follow her on Twitter and Instagram @theblackbuffy.